THE REGION — Dreams fade in and dissolve every month or so in the "Wayne's World" of public access cable programming in the San Gabriel Valley.
A steady stream of interns, Hollywood hopefuls and concerned citizens peer into the viewfinders of VHS cameras at half a dozen channel fiftysomething studios, hoping to shoot that one segment that could get them out of community broadcasting or make John Q. Public's thumb pause on the remote control.
The low- or no-budget community shows at Pasadena Community Access Corp.'s Channel 56, El Monte's Cable 3, Continental Cablevision's Channel 53 and Crown Cable's Channel 56 don't even rate a Nielsen Family, but they still draw would-be Walter Cronkites, Julia Childs and Larry Kings seeking a place to showcase their talents.
"Ten to 15 years ago, there were no opportunities for people to get entry-level exposure," said Steven Perry, Continental's community programming director. "But because of cable, now the field is much broader. There are many more opportunities for people coming out of school."
Pan over to Walnut, where 23-year-old Ernie Paulson, fresh out of Long Beach State with a degree in communications, prepares to tape "A Week in Walnut," the city's weekly news and information program.
Immaculate in a crisp white shirt, dark blue blazer and the requisite understated tie, and with his cuff buttons Scotch-taped to prevent rattling during high-pressure newscasts, Paulson fits the part of a Cronkite-in-training.
Except Cronkite didn't succumb to attacks of the giggles--though Paulson's laughter is probably due to low blood sugar. He and the crew didn't have the time or money to break for lunch.
Paulson manages to get out "And I'm Ernie" in a solemn voice before his face screws up and he pitches forward onto his notes in a laughing fit that leaves tears in the corners of his eyes.
Cameraman Karl Morgan yells, "Cut!" and shakes his head, as co-anchor Shelly Wishner joins in the giggling. "We could do it again, Ernie," he stammers. "But you blew your sinuses out on the script."
Morgan, 28, Wishner, 27, and Paulson are just three among the legions of young broadcast journalists hoping to move to a network affiliate somewhere in America.
"This is just a steppingstone, I hope," said Paulson, who's back to living at home. The money he makes on "Week" isn't quite enough to pay for his own place. "I'll probably end up going off to a network station in Montana somewhere after I get some experience doing this. My professor said everyone starts off someplace small, like Montana."
Cable television started off small as well in the late '70s and early '80s before hitting its stride with the introduction of HBO, ESPN and all the other networks that have become household names.
So why are Wayne and Garth, the longhaired duo featured in "Wayne's World," the only household names connected to public access programming?
For starters, public access channels are on the final frontier of your remote; the shows are on at odd hours; turnover among the volunteers is high. And then there's the money issue.
The Cable Act of 1992 required cable companies to give 5% of their annual revenues to the cities they contract with. The federal law encouraged, but did not require, cities to use some of those monies for public access programming.
"Cities can choose not to use the (revenues collected from cable companies) on public access cable," said Valerie McClung, production manager for Cable 3 in El Monte.
Council members don't realize how quickly the five-figure price tags on new video equipment can eat up funding, so studios that serve public access programming are notoriously barren, local cable officials say.
"These are the most photographed plants in the entire world," said Doris Powell, PCAC's programming coordinator, as she pointed to some yellowish ferns jammed into a closet. "Most sets are simple talk-show format, just the plants and some chairs."
To produce "Kiss the Cook" at PCAC, director Steve Marshall, 37, hauls an entire kitchen to the studio at his own expense in the back of his tree-trimming truck on those Saturdays that he finds time to tape a show.
"Stand back, we could all go up in flames," said Jonnathan Findlater, 42, as he hooked up the portable stove to the propane tank and then lit the burners with a Zippo. Findlater runs a casting company when he's not helping his friend Marshall follow his dream of marketing "Kiss the Cook" instructional videotapes.
"It's Steve's baby," Findlater said. "He's the one who found the cooks."
Those Julia Child wanna-bes are Stacie Hane and Linda Edris, but they act more like Laurel and Hardy in the kitchen when the cameras start rolling. Each episode begins with a hammed-up buss on the lips between the slimmer Hane and stouter Edris--hence the name of the show. Then the two yuk their way through sauteed chicken, risotto and wilted spinach salad, ending the show with another kiss, a champagne toast and a raucous "Mmm-mmm."